Simple meals for hot summer days

Dear Sara: Now that summer is upon us, I am trying not to resort to the “it’s too hot to cook” cop-out, but I fear my family will disappear if I keep whipping up variations of cold pasta salad, as well as chicken and tuna salads! Any new ideas for “cold” dinners to make ahead of time? I’m not looking for lunch sandwiches and such; my hubby comes home for lunch every day, so we do our fair share of run-of-the-mill sandwiches. Thanks!

— Kare, New Hampshire

Dear Kare: You can have a buffet of fruits, raw vegetables, yogurt, cheeses, deli meats, and rolls or crackers. Another option is to make the same meals that you usually do, but use a grill, pressure cooker or Crock-Pot, and kitchen helpers such as a steamer or rice cooker, so your home doesn’t heat up as much. Some people cook their meals at night or early in the morning when it’s cooler and reheat it later, too.

Traditional sandwiches can get boring, but you can put a new twist on things with various breads. Think pita, bagels, croissants, etc. You can make lettuce or tortilla wraps, too. To change things up a bit, you can make sandwich fixings in a tortilla. Roll it up and slice it to make tortilla pinwheels. Taco salad, various green salads or bean salads are tasty. You might cook a chicken one night and make quesadillas or fajitas the next day. Try grilled shish kebabs or grilled foil packet meals. Skillet meals are hot but quick, so make stir-fry or breakfast for dinner. Meats such as bratwurst or kielbasa cook quickly, too.

Dear Sara: I have a pantry full of canned (not home canned) foods of all kinds, including tuna, meat, beans, and soups. I would be so grateful if you would provide me with a perishable date for these products. Some of these items are 7 years old. The cans are not bulged in any way and have been kept cool.

 — Sandra F., Oklahoma

Dear Sandra: Manufacturers have different code systems on their canned goods. You will need to contact each one to be sure of the “best if used by” or expiration date, if they aren’t clearly marked. A phone number to contact them should be on each can. Usually, canned food is best used within two years of the processing date.

Dear Sara: What is the best way to store potatoes? I have a problem with them sprouting and going soft. I’ve been storing them in a natural bamboo basket, uncovered, on the counter. Now that we’re moving and will have a much larger kitchen, I’m thinking of buying a rolling cart made up of three wire baskets that are arranged like shelves. Then I can slide the cart underneath the kitchen table. I was thinking of using one basket for potatoes, one for onions, and one for tomatoes and other fruits that don’t need to be refrigerated. Is that a good idea?

Should they be covered with newspaper (or something else) to prevent light from getting in? Should I do that for the onions too? Or should I store them in a cabinet? This would not be close to the stove, so it wouldn’t be a hot environment. Or do they really need to be stored in the pantry?

— Heidi, Greece

Dear Heidi: Potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark and ventilated area away from light. Don’t refrigerate them because the starch turns to sugar. Don’t wash them before storing because the dampness promotes decay. Remove them from the bag and place them in a basket, burlap sack or cloth or mesh bag, crate or bin. Your idea seems fine. You can add a simple cotton cover, such as a sheet, on top to help protect them from light. A cabinet or pantry works as long as there’s some ventilation.


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